Is the Fiesta’s last hurrah the greatest hot hatch ever?
It’s no secret that the current generation Ford Fiesta is getting towards the end of its life, which makes it surprising that we were forced to wait until 2013 for the hot-hatch version, the ST.
Granted, it was worth the wait. With 180bhp to play with and a boot load of suspension and gearbox changes, it was a riot to drive and proved far more enjoyable than cars with far more power. The fact that it cost some £4,000 less than a Renault Clio 220 while being a more appealing choice just added a cherry to the very thick layer of icing.
However, time doesn’t stand still and new models keep popping up to take a slice of the Fiesta ST’s sales. Ford’s answer is the ST200.
You might think the ST200 moniker suggests there’s now 200bhp available, and you’d be right. Sort of. For the uninitiated, bear with me on this; the original 180bhp car actually developed 197bhp, but only in third gear and above when under full throttle. It also could only keep it up for 15 seconds a shot, although that’s a huge amount of time on a British B-road. The new ST200 makes 197bhp (or 200PS in European) but actually provides as much as 212bhp under the same circumstances, but this time for 20 seconds. Got that?
Matters get more confused when you realise that Ford-friendly tuning company Mountune will release an extra 15bhp from your standard ST without any time restrictions for around £600, and the conversion retains a proper Ford warranty. In fact, so close are the two companies that there’s an awful lot of similarities under the bonnet between the Mountune version and Ford’s own ST200.
What the ST200 does get is a shorter final ration on the gears, resulting in more lively performance especially through the mid range. It cuts the 0-62mph traffic light sprint down to just 6.7 seconds, but generates a keenness when trundling around at 40-50mph that you just don’t get in the standard car. Add in near-instant response from the throttle, torque-vectoring that sees the front end gripping tenaciously whatever you throw at it, and a soundtrack delivered through the speakers that make the car sound fruitier than it really is, and you’re positively encouraged to go supercar baiting.
That might sound daft, but suspension changes made to the ST200 (and now subsequently filtering down to the ST) make it feel incredibly agile around Britain’s finest B-roads. A significantly stiffer rear twist beam and a heftier front anti-roll bar produces noticeably more torsional rigidity, allowing the chassis magicians to soften the suspension slightly.
It drives like an ST, but just a little bit better. Without spending a week on a closed road, it’s tough to know if the chassis changes make any difference to pace, but the fact that it’s not immediately apparent suggests there’s nothing in it. Passengers get a more comfortable ride without sacrificing anything in terms of roadholding.
Step away from the driving dynamics and look the practicalities and the Fiesta is just beginning to show its age. The dashboard looks like the result of an explosion in a button factory, with the infotainment system being anything but easy to use. With Ford’s excellent Sync system available in other cars, it’s a shame the latest versions haven’t made it to the Fiesta.
It’s also a little tight inside, with rather more compact rear seats than many might like and a boot that’s smaller than its rivals. However, it’s still a fine-looking car, especially in three-door versions, and there’s no issues with its economy or refinement which are both top-notch.
You might think otherwise when you see the ST200’s Storm Grey paint job matched to black alloy wheels. This is the only choice you get, and separates the ST200 from it’s rather more run of the mill siblings.
It’s also a significant £3,000 or so more than the most expensive ST, which is an awful lot to ask for an extra 15bhp or so. It wouldn’t be so much if the chassis changes were exclusive to the ST200, but Ford has to make its R&D investment back somehow. At least you’ll clearly be in a special (but not limited) edition that is as good as the Fiesta gets.
It won’t get better, either. At least not in this generation. Ford has stated very clearly that there won’t be any more power upgrades coming. That’s fine, as the 212bhp under foot feels just about as powerful as you might want to go, given that the electronics and chassis engineers still haven’t figured out how to beat physics.
The ST200 gets pretty damn close though. This is how a hot-hatch should be done, so take note Peugeot, Renault, Vauxhall, et al.
|Model Tested: Ford Fiesta ST200|
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo petrol
Top speed: 143 mph
0-62 mph: 6.7 seconds
Power: 200/215 PS (197/212 bhp)
Torque: 290/320 Nm (213/236 ft lb)
|Official fuel economy: 46.3 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 140 g/km
VED Band: E / £130 per year
Car insurance group: 31E
Kerb weight: 1,163 kg